Micromanaging can be toxic in the workplace.
Many bosses don’t even realize they are actively practicing micromanagement.
Managers often fall into this role due their expertise at the tasks their subordinates are performing. After all, their ability to excel at such tasks is likely what got them promoted in the first place. Occasionally, a manager feels more comfortable with these tasks than he does with the more complicated ones he now has assigned to him, so he will fall back into the habit of doing them. This is where micromanagement begins to reveal itself.
One popular business voice, author Ron Ashkenas, discussed this phenomenon in the Harvard Business Review, where he stated: “At higher levels managers usually need to dial down their operational focus and learn how to be more strategic. To do so, managers have to trust their people to manage day-to-day operations and coach them as needed, rather than trying to do it for them.”
As a business owner, manager, or employee, you should never take the practice of micromanagement lightly. While it may seem harmless, it is actually much more than a minor quirk in the functioning of the workplace. Micromanagement causes employees to perform poorly, and managers to avoid more important work.
Thankfully, you can avoid falling into this trap by listening to the advice of two important authoritative voices on the subject: Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile and psychologist Steven Kramer. Through detailed research, they helped determine how to avoid micromanagement and they discuss this in their book “The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work.”
Speaking on the negative effects of micromanagement, the authors state: “When people lack the autonomy, information, and expert help they need to make progress, their thoughts, feelings, and drives take a downward turn — resulting in pedestrian ideas and lackluster output. Managers panic when they see performance lagging, which leads them to hover over subordinates’ shoulders even more intrusively and criticize them even more harshly — which engenders even worse inner work life.”
So it can be a vicious cycle.
In their work, Amabile and Kramer lay out 4 ways bosses become soul-crushing micromanagers:
- They Don’t Allow Autonomy
People work best when they have some sense of freedom and confidence in the work they are doing.
While a boss has to be careful about how much freedom and oversight is used, avoiding the feeling of being overbearing is of utmost importance.
In fact, one of the best bosses researched in “The Progress Principle” made his workplace run better by placing simple, clear goals for employees to reach, while avoiding any kind of imposed requirements on how the goals were achieved.
This allowed employees to have motivation for reaching their goal, without feeling stressed out and frustrated by minute manager imposed rules.
- They Ask, But Don’t Assist
Many micromanaging bosses will constantly pester employees about their performance/progress, often taking over a task instead of helping them understand how to do it better.
This demoralizes the employee and hurts their confidence in being able to perform their job in the future.
Focus must be placed on helping employees become better at their job, not simply doing it for them in frustration.
- They Blame Quickly
Nothing demoralizes employees faster than feeling that they were punished or accused of a faulty performance.
Instead of jumping to conclusions or focusing to much on who is to blame, managers should be thinking the situation through and looking for a way to guide an open exploration of causes and possible solutions (along with the employee).
This will avoid a situation where employees are reluctant to approach the manager for help when things go wrong.
- They Do Not Openly Discuss Their Own Work
Micromanaging bosses are often so busy looking at the work of others, that they don’t give enough thought to, or share enough information about their own work.
This blocks their own growth as professionals and also denies employees access to the bigger picture and knowledge of how their work fits into the puzzle.